Enterprise Connect: UCIF makes slow but steady progress

I love the smell of UCIF in the morning… Smells like interoperability. Someday this frustration’s gonna end…

— Telecom Director Bill Kilgore, “Voipocalypse Now”

Interoperability was a hot topic at VoiceCon 2010. All the major vendors wanted something to be done and pointed fingers at each other (more often than not, at Microsoft). Then finally in mid-2010 the UCIF was established by founding members HP, Logitech, Microsoft, and Polycom. Membership grew later in the months.

But glaringly missing still are the likes of Avaya, Cisco, IBM, NEC, ShoreTel, etc. Somebody at Enterprise Connect even asked, Can UCIF succeed without participation from these other major players?

It’s a valid question and concern, and admittedly, I’ve one of those who was bearish on UCIF. Anton Krantz of Microsoft and Robin Raulf-Sager of Polycom, representatives of UCIF, have a much more optimistic outlook.

There are UC customers out there that begs for greater interoperability among its communications components from multiple vendors. Well, let me rephrase that: There are customers that want interoperability out of the box. Presently, the lack of interoperability has actually created a middleware ecosystem for a company like NET (an UCIF “contributing participant”) which develops software to bridge the interoperability gaps among a variety of UC products. Obviously there is a market demand for interoperability.

However, it appears that the market demand hasn’t peaked enough to evoke greater cooperation and collaboration between UC vendors. And that’s probably because UC is still very much an enterprise-centric technology. Although UCIF operates similarly to the WiFi Alliance organizational model, WiFi was a general technology (both consumer and enterprise) and achieved success much quickly.

Progress is being made albeit at a slow pace. In December 2010 the UCIF Board of Directors approved an amended version of bylaws. It addresses concerns about the makeup of board members and makes joining the forum easier. More power is distributed among non-founding members with an increased number of directors. Unfortunately, three months have passed and still no significant membership developments.

On a brighter note, the forum has created a few workgroups to tackle more specific areas of interest within UC interoperability and with marketing UCIF. That’s a positive step forward because I believe the UCIF has more of a narrative problem than anything else. It needs to actively spread the pro-interoperability gospel — advertising, petitions, awareness campaigns, etc. Treat the lack of interoperability as a disease and bring it to the forefront of issues facing enterprises interested in UC.

For UCIF to gather steam may still take a few more years. And those years could prove to be costly for both sides — the vendors and the enterprises.


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